Marcella Hazan taught me how to cook. My mother, grandmother, great aunts all introduced me to cooking, although as a boy I was only allowed to linger on the fringes of the activity. When I was first introduced to Marcella's cookbooks, it was a revelation. Just like when I first entered art school, when I first read her books, I had to sweep away misconceptions and bad habits, and learn to replace them with practices that are the bedrock of my cooking now. Marcella disciplined me, my drill sergeant in the kitchen.
Marcella was strict. In her cookbooks, she is eloquent, her prose occasionally over the top, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but she is never vague. Do it this way, she writes, not that way. And use this, not that. Current culinary trends are given short shrift, like fish that is seared on the outside and quivering pink on the inside. Marcella tells us that fish is meant to be cooked, and cooked properly. Period. And then she shows us how. The results, if you play be her rules, are wonderful.
Marcella knew the food of her home country inside and out. In "Marcella Says" she enumerates the pasta made in every region of Italy, from the foothills of the Alps (eggy "tajarin" with slivers of truffles) to the perfect dried pasta of the deep south, why it is made the way it is, when to eat it and the sauces that make it a meal. With a trip to Rome ahead of me soon, I am making notes on what to eat from my pile of her books.
She is never stentorian, always engaging and always right (she would probably agree with that last assessment).
I devour cook books the way some people might devour a box of candy. Julia places high in my pantheon of heroes, as do many others that I rely on for inspiration and guidance. But when I look at the top of the pyramid of books, there she is, looking at me knowingly. "Just do as I say, you won't be sorry...."
Marcella, I will miss you.